How has the war in Ukraine affected tourism in Eastern Europe?
The impact of the war in Ukraine has spread to neighboring countries, indirectly affecting tourism in other Eastern European destinations, which are not actually involved in the conflict.
After the start of the war, many tourists canceled their reservations in countries such as Poland, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia and Romania. Although the chances of the conflict spreading beyond Ukraine are virtually nil, as the neighboring countries are members of NATO and their invasion would have repercussions that even Putin is afraid of, it seems that some people still fear visit countries that share borders with Ukraine.
If Russia started bombing NATO countries, going to Poland would be the least of your worries.
Matt Mavir, founder of Last Night of Freedom, told CNN
In Poland, 30% to 40% of foreign tourists had canceled their reservations at the end of March, according to a statement from the country’s deputy minister of sport and tourism. Moreover, the airline Jet2 stopped operating flights to Poland in March and will only resume in September, which is too late for the summer season.
Tour operator Last Night of Freedom, which specializes in stag and hen parties in Europe, has revealed that bookings for Krakow have fallen by 60% for the summer, while Krakow-based hotel company Jordan Group , had lost 80% of its group bookings in just 3 says after the war broke out. Małopolska province has also seen a 60% drop in the number of foreign tourists, according to the deputy director of the province’s Chamber of Hotels, with only corporate clients keeping their reservations.
Freedom last night showed that bookings in Budapest were also down 45% and Riga down 39%. The Hungarian Tourism Agency revealed that the overall number of foreign visitors to the country fell by 37% in the first 6 months of the year, compared to 2019 figures, with Americans the most absent, with a down 65%.
The Slovak tourist board shows a decrease of 49% compared to 2019, in the first 5 months of the year. However, a spokesperson said that since the numbers are compared to 2019, some of the difference is still given by the pandemic. They also pointed out that Bratislava is only an hour from Vienna and 4 p.m. from Kyiv, but people are still discouraged by the common border with Ukraine.
Estonia was also affected. Tallinn, a frequent destination for cruises, suffered the most, said Estonian Tourist Board director Liina Maria Lepik. Of the 350 ships scheduled to call at the city this year, half have canceled because they cannot go further to St Petersburg, which is a popular Baltic cruise destination.
For Romania, Intrepid Travel’s regional general manager for Europe, Tom Smith, told CNN that tourist numbers have particularly fallen in the Danube Delta region, which is closest to Ukraine. On the other hand, he thinks it is due to post-pandemic trends rather than war. After 2 years of restrictions, people now prefer to travel to ‘bucket list destinations’.
It’s really frustrating and infuriating that politics influences tourism, which helps people come together. More than 30 years have passed since the collapse of the Soviet Union and suddenly it’s like a geopolitical zombie influencing industries like tourism in Central and Eastern Europe.
Wojtek Mania, Poznań Tourism Organization, told CNN
Tour operators and tourist boards are trying to show travelers that, despite their fears, visiting Eastern Europe is actually very safe. “Krakow, Gdansk, Wrocław, Poznań and Warsaw… are all located hundreds of kilometers from the border with Ukraine. The distance between Krakow and Kyiv is like the distance between London and Madrid,” Dorota Wojciechowska, director of the Polish Tourist Board in London, told CNN.
At the same time, they are aware that travel and tourism is “based on emotions, and rational arguments don’t reach people because they have those feelings, so it’s hard to get across,” said Wojciechowska.
We “focus on letting people know that we are safe. That we are not in a state of war, that we are not on the front line and that there are no crowds of refugees camping in the squares of the old town. Nothing is happening in the streets,” Mania said.